If you think of Ed German as the man who brings you John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, and scores of other jazz and soul legends and deep cuts, five nights a week on Long Island’s only NPR station, you’d be correct.
But here’s something you probably don’t know about German, host of the Urban Jazz Experience and Friday Night Soul on 88.3 WPPB FM in Southampton: He licked a meteorite at the American Museum of Natural History.
Not recently, you understand, because that would be super weird. No, he was just an eight-year-old kid on a field trip from Brooklyn, but for some reason he felt compelled to duck under the red velvet cordon surrounding the huge planetary rock when his teacher wasn’t looking and, well, lick it. “I knew it came from outer space; for a kid, that was really cool,” he said with a laugh. “It tasted like a big piece of iron.”
Later that same year, sitting outside his home on Willoughby Avenue with his family on a balmy summer evening, German looked up at the exact moment that something colossal and breathtaking and fiery shot across the sky. “No one else saw it!” he exclaimed. “None of the adults. None of my siblings. I was the only one looking up. And I kept wondering for years afterward, did I just imagine that? Or was I somehow chosen to see it?”
Here’s something else about him you probably don’t know: German is the CEO of a company, AmaZone USA Real Estate Holdings, which plans to revitalize a portion of Coney Island into an Amazonian amusement park, a boutique oceanfront hotel, luxury and affordable housing, and retail spaces, to boot, with a price tag somewhere in the half-a-billion range.
“Coney Island is still a very vibrant amusement park, as it has been for almost 100 years,” German said. “The Cyclone is still there, Surf Avenue is still the main drag, and if you go on a hot summer day, it’s crowded.” The new theme park will be available year-round, “entertaining and educational, with an indoor river ride to teach visitors about the rainforest. It’s a Brooklyn-Brazilian project,” he said.
German has never done anything like this before, but he’s up to the challenge. “It’s daunting, and totally engrosses all of my time,” he acknowledged. “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done.” If all goes according to plan, AmaZone is looking to open in 2023.
This came about through an old friend who lives in Brazil, fellow jazz aficionado Philip Agostini. A lot of the capital is already pledged, and when permission to proceed comes from the deputy mayor’s office, there’s also talk of an initial public offering, with Brooklynites being given first dibs. “We’re just waiting for the go-ahead,” he said.
The four components in the plan — theme park, hotel, condos, and affordable housing — take up about 375,000 square feet, and complement the existing and historic Coney Island that people remember with fondness, including Ed German.
In his book, Deep Down In Brooklyn — yeah, he’s an author too — German recalls, “In the summer, Ma takes us to Coney Island every Tuesday night, not for the amusement rides because she couldn’t afford them, but to see the free fireworks presented by Schaefer Beer from barges in the Atlantic, and we watch them from the beach.” It was those nights of family and familiarity, of community, that German remembers with enthusiasm.
“My first memory of Coney Island is the carousel, which was on the north side of Surf Avenue, kind of across from Nathan’s. I only found out a few years ago the name of the song — it’s called ‘The Poor People of Par-ee.’ There were six of us kids; my mother couldn’t afford to take us on all of those rides, but we could ride the carousel. I remembered the tune all of my life,” he said.
Later, “I remember playing hooky and going to Coney Island in junior high school — we sneaked on the subway and headed over. We only had enough money to ride the Cyclone once. All we had was a token each to get back home,” he said.
But, he said, “My biggest memory was always going to Coney Island and never having enough money to eat. I remember distinctly being broke and hungry there. And the rich people, who could pull their cars right up to the curb, they could eat! And I could smell mustard and sauerkraut, Nathan’s hot dogs and fried shrimp,” German launches into a bit of The Drifters’ “Under The Boardwalk,” “You can almost taste the hot dogs and French fries they sell . . .”
Inspired by “Montauk: The End,” German has trademarked the phrase, “Brooklyn: The Beginning.” Because it is the beginning of Long Island, and hopefully, a new beginning for German and Coney Island. As the CEO of AmaZone, here’s hoping he’ll be able to dine there now, and dine well.
And that light in the sky that he swears he saw as a kid?
It was only in 2010 or so that he heard the late gallery owner Leonard Barton at a fundraiser for WPPB in Southampton — oh yeah, Ed’s work was in the show, because he’s also a self-taught portrait artist — talking about a poem Barton had written “about a comet he saw when he was a kid in Brooklyn.”
“That was it!” German said. “I talked to him. It was the same summer, it was the same night. Finally, I felt validated. But I still think I saw it,” he said, laughing again, “because I licked that meteorite.”